New report reignites debate over lab-altered virus research

In 2014, the White House put a moratorium on funding for experiments to produce more dangerous versions of viruses such as bird flu and SARS. Critics had argued that the potential risk of one of these viruses escaping from the lab and causing a pandemic were too great. A new independent analysis of the risks and benefits of such research was discussed January 7–8, 2016 at a meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology, who has previously criticized these experiments, commented on the new report in an NPR story. “Even given their very optimistic assumptions in some cases and erroneous assumptions in other cases, which all lead them to think the risk is smaller than it is, they still come out with a level of risk that is unacceptable,” he said. “Experiments to manufacture viruses in the lab that may be highly virulent and highly transmissible in humans are extremely risky, and have very little value for improving our response to these viruses, compared to safe alternatives.”

Listen to the NPR story: Debate Over Bird Flu Research Moratorium Flares Up Again